Carbon footprints leave a mark, even for the environmentally minded

April 18, 2013

One of the benefits of farmers markets — aside from fresh-off-the-vine produce, of course — is the idea that these seasonally driven outposts treat the earth with a gentle touch, from seed to stand. Farmers use fewer chemicals on their crops and burn fewer fossil fuels to bring their goods to market.

Glen's Garden Market owner Danielle Vogel knows how hard it still is to reduce carbon emissions at home. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
Glen's Garden Market owner Danielle Vogel knows how hard it still is to reduce carbon emissions at home. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Glen’s Garden Market, former environmental lawyer Danielle Vogel’s forthcoming store near Dupont Circle, will take this concept to a whole new level. As Vogel explained in this week’s Food section story on Glen’s, “Everything we do is environmentally focused.”

A market with the environment in mind

Some of Glen’s environmental slant is obvious: The vast majority of the stocked items, for instance, will come from the states of the Chesapeake watershed, from Virginia to New York, and the store will not offer any paper or plastic bags for shoppers. But other elements will be more subtle, like the recycled and reclaimed materials used in the build-out of the store, or the lack of a wood-burning pizza oven (the latter because Vogel cannot stomach the amount of carbon dioxide that wood produces).

Vogel’s CO2 aversion got me wondering about her own carbon footprint. So I asked her if she’d be willing to take the Nature Conservancy’s Carbon Footprint Calculator, which she quickly agreed to. (You can follow along and figure out your own carbon footprint, too.)

Vogel lives with her husband, Ken Vogel, a reporter for Politico, in a three-bedroom townhouse in Alexandria, which immediately puts the couple in a carbon hole. According to Nature Conservancy’s tool, their townhouse produces 20 tons of CO2 a year, even with all the Energy Star appliances, weatherized doors and energy-efficient lighting they’ve installed. The couple drives a hybrid vehicle and has taken more than a dozen flights in the past year, but only one long trip, which adds another 11 tons of carbon emissions to the environment.

On the food and recycling front, Danielle and Ken Vogel produce another 7.9 tons of carbon dioxide, bringing their total to almost 39 tons of CO2 a year. When Danielle Vogel hears the final number, she is understandably troubled. But then she remembers something: She and Ken purchase clean-energy offset credits.

“That should reduce some of my [energy] intensity, but they don’t have that question” on the Nature Conservancy calculator, Vogel notes.

Then she asks how her score compares to mine, which is when I confess that my wife and I produce even more carbon. According to the calculator, we produce 45 tons of CO2 a year as a couple. We clearly have a long way to go before we can dare call ourselves "environmentalists."

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires ingesting more calories than a draft horse.
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Maura Judkis | April 18, 2013